How to Buy Plants That Will Live!

How to Buy Plants That Will Live!

Part of Ep. 2001 Curing a Brown Thumb

Do you know how to tell which plants have a better chance of surviving in your back yard?  At the The Flying Pig in Algoma we’ll learn how to buy plants that will live in our specific growing conditions.

Premiere date: Mar 03, 2012

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

Shelley Ryan:

We are along the shores of Lake Michigan in Algoma at the Flying Pig, part nursery, part art gallery and just part fun. I'm with one of the owners, Robin Mulhaney. Robin, you and co-owner Susan Connor have created just a magical place here that I love visiting.

 

Today we're going to do some therapy for people with brown thumbs.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

"Brown thumb syndrome."

 

Shelley Ryan:

Yeah, and it can be so frustrating. You know if you buy a plant and you kill it you're not likely to come back and buy another plant. We'll start by talking about how to buy a plant that will live.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Got it, let's start with spring.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, let's do it.

Robin Mulhaney:

Spring comes along, we're all excited. We're driving by the greenhouses. We're driving by the nurseries and they're starting to put stock out, and it's really alluring and we stop in and we see plants like this. Mid-April, maybe into May a little bit.

 

Shelley Ryan:

And we have no control!

 

Robin Mulhaney:

We're ready to buy, but this makes me nervous.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Why? It's a beautiful echinacea in full bloom. I mean, after a white winter...

 

Robin Mulhaney:

That's the problem, it's in full bloom. But if you read the plant tag.

 

Shelley Ryan:

This is a summer bloomer.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Yes, it is. This should be about a quarter of this size, if not less and establishing roots right now rather than bud and bloom. I'm going to guess that this plant was forced in a hot house and I'd question the provenance of this plant.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So probably not grown locally. The provenance being regional plants.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Outside of our area, or grown in an environment that does not have this plant acclimated for our cooler springs and summers.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So the roots probably aren't even established is what you're saying.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Exactly, it's all top growth.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What happens if I plant this?

 

Robin Mulhaney:

There's a very good chance that it will die.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, let's put this back. Well then here's one that looks better then because it doesn't have flowers.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

This is going to be a common sight early in the season. This is what you want to see in the spring, no flowers. If you look in the root windows here there's no roots yet.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's not good, though?

 

Robin Mulhaney:

It's not good, because I'm going to guess that the roots in this plant are just starting. I think I'll take a peek.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You shouldn't do this at the green house.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

No, but we can do this right here.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Thank you!

 

Robin Mulhaney:

We have just a few roots, it's not ready for sale yet. If this is stock that came in to our place I wouldn't be selling it. I would be waiting a few weeks until the roots were established.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So you would put this in a holding zone somewhere and let it grow some more.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

That's correct, until it was available.

 

Shelley Ryan:

A novice or somebody struggling with brown thumb syndrome would probably kill it, because it's not established. It's not ready.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Put in the ground and it could very well die.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So what should it look like?

 

Robin Mulhaney:

This one up here is virtually perfect.

Shelley Ryan:

But I'm not planting it in April, am I?

 

Robin Mulhaney:

You're not planting it in April. You're purchasing this and it's closer to mid-June or early June. It's got it's buds set and some of it's blooms. There's a lot going on with this plant. And if we take a peek at the roots.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, look at that!

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Nice roots in every window. This is ready to go.

 

Shelley Ryan:

If I'm in doubt, and as a new, brown thumb gardener

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Talk to your plant sellers.

 

Shelley Ryan:

There we go.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Read the tags. if the information isn't there on the tags talk to your plant sellers. That's why they're there.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's why you go to a local nursery where there are local growers. They're there to help you. Absolutely.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

And ask them, "Where was this grown?" You can even ask what practices were used in it's growing.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, even zones because Zone 4 isn't the same across the country.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

No, Zone 4 in Washington state is a lot different than the Zone 4 here in Wisconsin.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I've been in the rainforest and that was in Washington state.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

We're unlikely to have rain forests here!

 

Shelley Ryan:

Yeah, we don't have rain forests! Okay, so that takes care of spring.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Spring into early summer, and then we have mid-summer. One of the things we're going to start running into in mid-summer is plants that you might have got there a little bit late. It's done blooming, but it's still a really healthy plant and a good plant.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So this is worth buying?

 

Robin Mulhaney:

This is a campanula that's just spent. It's already done, it needs to be cut back and deadheaded.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Just cut those off.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

It's already establishing new growth.

 

Shelley Ryan:

This is a healthy plant, it's just done blooming.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Yep, it's done blooming. If I look into the little windows here, I see that there's nice roots.

 

Shelley Ryan:

They're white, so they're healthy.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

If pull it out, that's a nice mid-season plant. It's not the prettiest, but it's healthy. That would be a plant that it's okay to buy.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Worth purchasing then.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Another plant that's worth purchasing mid-summer, even though it might not be pretty, is this lily. I know this is a hard sell, this does not look pretty.

 

Shelley Ryan:

It does not look pretty.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Blooms are gone, but what it's starting to do is die back. A lot of the early bloomers like poppy and some of your native plants are going to die back in the pot, but it's still a healthy plant.

 

Shelley Ryan:

This one's actually kind of going dormant.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

It's feeding the sugars back into the bulbs. Next year, you're going to have double the plant.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So it's a good time to plant it.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

And if I lift it out--

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, wow, look at the roots!

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Nice roots, ready to go, just not very pretty.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Fall planting is next.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Well, fall is when the sale tables start.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Ooh, okay!

 

Robin Mulhaney:

It can be really tempting to go in and just start piling things into your cart that you take off of the sale tables. But you have to be a little bit careful in fall.

 

Shelley Ryan:

What is that?

 

Robin Mulhaney:

This used to be a sedum. Again, the weight is in the pot.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's good, it probably has lots of roots.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Yeah, that's right, it establishes that. But I'm going to guess the weight is more because of the fact that it's root rot.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Shouldn't this have lots of glorious leaves for fall?

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Yes, it should. Even as it's a little close to my nose, I'm smelling root rot a little bit. If I take a peek in here, I'm not going to see any white roots.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Ooh, I don't see any roots.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

No, so that's something for the compost pile.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Don't take it from the sale table. Don't even bother.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

No, you're done, that's done. But what you can run into in fall are some really nicely rooted perennials.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, that looks great.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

It's Adagio miscanthus, setting up it's little plumes. It's a dwarf variety. The roots are crazy.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Look at how strong they look. This is a case where planting something like this, we might even have to cut the roots to loosen them so they don't keep growing in a circle.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Exactly. But yet, a great plant for fall planting.

 

Shelley Ryan:

In all these cases, to have success ask the nursery person questions. There's no question that's a bad question.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

There is no stupid plant question.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, and if they don't know the answer maybe look for another local nursery that can answer your questions about provenance about how old the plant is, and where was it grown.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

And when it should be blooming.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Another was to get that answer is to read the label.

 

Robin Mulhaney:

Read your labels.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, thank you. 

EPISODE SEGMENTS+
EPISODE RESOURCES+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.